The Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz, must be my second favourite area of my hometown, Kraków, after the Old Town.
It is pretty close to the City Centre as it takes around 25 minutes gentle walk from the Wawel Castle to enter this diverse and magical area of the town.
Old versus New
The old part of Kazimierz is quaint, with narrow old streets and full of art galleries and trendy cafes attracting visitors with daily evening music concerts. The streets are clean, the buildings have had a fresh lick of paint and flower planters adorn windows and doorways everywhere. However, it did not used to be like this and it is not how I remember his area when I was growing up here. Basically, it was a ruin. The buildings were crumbling down and it is not where you would like to get lost late at night.
All changed after 1989 when some of the previous owners came back from abroad and reclaimed their properties and the renovation work had begun to restore Kazimierz into its old glory and into a culturally thriving district of Kraków. The reinvention of Kazimierz was particularly propelled by the introduction of the annual Jewish Cultural Festival and by Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List which was shot here 20 years ago.
The Jewish Quarter as such was established in the 15th century and this is when one of the oldest synagogues, the Old Synagogue in Szeroka Street, was built. It used to be the main place of worship and the centre of cultural and political life in Kazimierz. The synagogue is now a museum beautifully explaining the history of the Kraków Jews and their customs.
Szeroka Street itself looks like a square but as the name implies it is just wide. There are a few nice restaurants and boutique hotels here and it is also a place where, away from the hustle and bustle of the tourists, a still active Remuh synagogue is situated.
This synagogue is my favourite as it is surrounded by an old Jewish cemetery which I find both fascinating and thought evoking. The cemetery dates back to 16th century but was destroyed by the Nazis who smashed most of the tombstones. These were subsequently unearthed after the war and turned into a type of a Wailing Wall representing repression, extermination but also remembrance of the Kraków Jews (please see the top photo).
A Walk through Kazimierz
The best way to explore Kazimierz is to immerse yourself in its climate. Visit the well known Singer Cafe where the old sewing machines are the focal point of the cafe tables, have a meal at Kolanko no 6 or lunch on a typical Kraków street food “zapiekanka” from the round market building in the Nowy Plac. Or just carry on exploring the nine main synagogues of Kazimierz: the Old, Remuh, High, Temple, Wolf Popper, Izaak and Kupa, they are all different and remind the tourist that this was a thriving Jewish quarter with over 60.000 Jews who lived in Kraków since 13the century.
Last but not Least
There is a touching art installation in the Ghetto Heroes Square which was the main square of the ghetto which saw people socialising but also being deported to the death camps. Instead of one monument commemorating the victims of the ghetto there are 70 bronze chairs scattered around the square which symbolise the emptiness of the ghetto after its liquidation.
A Must See Place
If you are planning a trip to Kraków, visiting the Jewish Quarter should be on top of the places to see. Take a stroll through the old narrow streets, try local food in one of many restaurants, browse through stalls selling antiques or enjoy an intimate gig by local musicians. You will definitely have a great time!